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Journey: The most unique game of this generation?

No missions, no map; just a desert and singing PSN users...

Freethinking indie developer thatgamecompany's design philosophy is boldly simple. Just look at their catalogue: in flOw you swim in an underwater world, causing microbes to evolve.

In Flower you control the wind, swelling out fresh blossoms as you sweep across fields and cityscapes. And in Journey, you walk. Somewhere. Playing as a nameless cloaked figure, you must reach the light beaming from a distant mountain by crossing a vast, windswept landscape.

It's all very mysterious. You don't know why you're in the desert, who you are or what the light is. There are no maps or markers, no floating arrows telling you what to do. But where else are you going to go but that mountain? It's just you, the sands and the far-off peak. Few games evoke such a beguiling sense of freedom, curiosity and adventure.

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And you're not alone. The devs describe Journey as a 'social experiment,' though don't expect crowds. As you trek towards the mountain you meet handfuls of other players, but you can't talk to them or even see their PSN names - rendering everyone foreign, alien and mysterious. You can only sing to each other, or shuffle out pictures and words in the gorgeously malleable sand.

The art may be stylised and simple, but don't assume Journey is basic - like a novel or a film, it seeks to replicate only the meaningful things, not an indiscriminate everything. To that end, the developers have spent a great deal of time on drifting, deforming sand and fabric that flaps and trails in the wind.

GRAINS OF TRUTH
The idea is that you form wordless bonds to help each other past the desert's obstacles (it's far from an empty wasteland) or, if you prefer, just ignore the others and forge ahead alone. It's another challenge the devs admit they're working on hard - how to frame Journey so one player, grouped players and previous players don't unbalance or break the tests of the world.

If successful, the result will be a weird and wonderful way to experience PSN; individuals who could be at opposite ends of the globe, combining on a simple human level beyond the reach of culture, gender, age, race or religious differences, to unravel a truth. It's beautiful. But, of course, there's conflict.

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There may be no shooting, but you're always battling, whether it's against the rolling desert or the precipices of a snow-blasted mountain. It's no stroll. The haunting style and premise builds on past designs, but its idiosyncratic interaction elevates Journey. It's this kind of creativity that will define the PSN and, if we're lucky, PS3 itself.

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